Spaghetti with Almond and Tomato Pesto

Yet another fast, delicious and simple recipe from Claudia Roden’s ‘The Food of Italy’.

The key to this dish is the tomatoes: obtain the ripest, freshest most aromatic tomatoes you can find, the results will make your taste buds tap-dance.

I find that the amount of sauce made from this recipe is twice the amount that you need to feed four people (as a main dish), but it doesn’t work as well if you halve the ingredients. So, make it as is and freeze half – it freezes really well and loses almost nothing as long as you use it within a couple of weeks.

To make it vegan choose wholewheat pasta and omit the Parmesan.

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RECIPE serves 4

500g ripe tomatoes

75g blanched almonds

3 fat garlic cloves, crushed

a large handful of basil leaves

1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes

100 ml extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp caster sugar

400g spaghetti (or linguine or bucatini)

finely grated Parmesan to serve, if liked


METHOD

At least an hour before you plan to eat, make the pesto: leave the tomato skins on, but remove the hard white pit where the stalk sits. Quarter the tomatoes and add to a food processor with the almonds, garlic, basil and chilli flakes. Blend to a rough puree.

Add the oil, sugar and a generous pinch of salt, blend briefly then tip into a bowl and allow to sit at room temperature until you need to use it.

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, until al dente. Drain the pasta, but not too thoroughly, leave a little of the cooking water clinging to the pasta. Check the seasoning of the sauce, then toss the pasta and sauce together. Finish with a generous grinding of black pepper.

Some people (like me) like to finish this dish with a little finely grated Parmesan, others (like my wife) prefer to savour this dish as it is – try it both ways and see which you prefer.

Serve alongside a simple salad of rocket leaves dressed with freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

Lamb Dopiaza

I think the thing that I most love about cooking is that no matter how experienced you are, you are never sure what the next new recipe will teach you.

I have made lamb dopiaza many times, going through all the usual steps of cooking off the onions, cooking out the spices, and so on… This recipe however turns all that on its head – all you have to do is put everything into a casserole with a lid, stick it on the stove, and wait.

I found this in ‘Rick Stein’s India’, a book from which I have cooked approaching twenty different dishes, all of them wonderful. As Rick says, when a simple approach pays such dividends as this, you have to wonder whether all the fuss and the ‘correct’ approach is always worth it.

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RECIPE serves 4

500g lamb shoulder, cut into approximately 4cm pieces

1 kg onions, peeled and quartered

I whole bulb of garlic, cloves peeled and finely chopped

50g of grated fresh ginger

500g natural thick yogurt

4 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp cloves

a 10cm piece of cinnamon stick, left whole

10 whole dried Kashmiri chillies

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds (from 6-8 cardamom pods)

6 tbsp ghee, or butter

1 1/2 tbsp salt

250ml water


METHOD

This will be the shortest method you’ll ever read…

Add all the ingredients into a casserole dish, cover with a lid then bring it to the boil. Reduce the heat to the merest blip of a simmer, and cook for around 2 hours, until the lamb is meltingly soft.

Most of the liquid will have been absorbed, this is exactly what you want. Dress with a little fresh coriander leaf and serve alongside plain boiled or steamed rice, and roti or naan bread if you like.

Tagliatelle with White Truffle

I have been curious about truffles for a long time, but I have never laid hands on a fresh truffle. I have tried various truffle-infused oils, but they have always been disappointing – to say the least.

I spotted this recipe in Claudia Roden’s ‘The Food Of Italy: Region by Region’ and I had to try it, so I tracked down a jar of minced white truffle online. It was expensive, but worth every penny.

I have made this three times in recent weeks, the jar of minced truffles that I bought was big enough to make ten servings and once opened it will only keep for a short time, with a layer of oil to protect the exposed truffle, in the fridge. Each time I have made it, tweaking as I go, it has got better.

It turns out that there is a very good reason why truffles are highly prized: they are delicious. Describing the taste is impossible, but I have see them described as musky and earthy, and that fits well. This is the basic recipe, but you could easily add some lightly fried mushrooms – fried in the butter and oil in the recipe below – or some chopped black olives tossed in at the end. The next time I make it I will try some black garlic with it, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

truffle

RECIPE serves 4

60g unsalted butter

a generous glug of best-quality olive oil (not extra-virgin)

40g grated Parmesan

a grating of nutmeg

300g tagliatelle or fettuccini pasta

several teaspoons of minced truffle, taste as you go and add more if you need to. OR, if you are lucky enough to get hold of a truffle – especially the more aromatic white kind – shave it thinly and stir it through the finished dish

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed


METHOD

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, until al dente.

Meanwhile, gently melt the butter in the oil, then finely grate in a little nutmeg – about a third of a nut – and set aside for a few minutes.

Finely grate the Parmesan, and crush the garlic.

Drain the pasta, but not too thoroughly. Leave a little cooking water on the pasta to help the sauce. Toss the pasta with the nutmeg-infused oil and the Parmesan, then add the truffle and garlic with a generous grinding of black pepper. The garlic goes in raw and will cook only very slightly in the sauce. It will give you breath issues the next day, but it’s worth it – the combination of flavours is amazing.

Serve alongside a simple green salad.

Nasi Goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice)

I’m a poor blogger. I’m sorry, it has been a long time since I last wrote anything, I can only blame it on life getting in the way.

Life does get busy, sometimes even thinking about what to make for dinner is too much. What you need in these cases is a quick, easy and delicious meal. Nasi Goreng is it: it is endlessly adaptable – all you definitely need are the sauce ingredients and some pre-cooked rice, for the rest of it you can use what you’ve got in the fridge and any leftover meat or fish. You can also top it with a fried egg if you like.

It’s all about the sauce. The quantities given below are for two people, so scale it up to suit however many people you are serving – and make sure you scale up the quantity of the sauce or it will be too widely dispersed and lose its impact.

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RECIPE serves 2

a quantity of rice, pre-cooked and allowed to cool completely

2 tbsp groundnut oil

1 tbsp unsalted butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 red chillies, seeds left in, finely chopped

100g button mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, finely diced

your choice of soft vegetables: mange tout, fine beans, bell peppers, peas, sprouting broccoli, baby sweetcorn – whatever takes your fancy or that you have waiting to be used up. Chop them into bite-sized pieces.

For the Sauce:

2 tbsp kicap manis (Malay soy sauce)

1 tsp hot paprika

2 tsp tomato puree

2 tbsp chilli bean sauce


METHOD

First, cook the rice and leave it to cool. I don’t give quantities for the rice because everyone differs in what they believe to be a serving size, so cook what your own experience tells you that you will need. If serving rice for dinner, I always cook much more than I need so I can make this, or other fried rice dishes the day after.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

Now make the sauce, simply combine all the ingredients in a small bowl with a little vegetable oil, stir well and set aside.

Prepare all of the ingredients you will be using. This is a stir-fry so everything happens quickly when the heat is on, you need everything ready to just tip into your wok.

In a large wok, melt the butter with the groundnut oil over a high heat. When it is hot (not quite smoking), add the shallots and garlic and – keeping everything moving all the time – cook for about a minute until the garlic is just starting to colour. Add the sauce, then immediately add all of your vegetables. This will cool the oil a little, so the danger of burning the garlic is minimised. Keeping everything moving, cook for a few minutes more until the vegetables are just cooked, hot through but retaining their bite.

If you are adding pre-cooked meat or fish, now is the time to add it and give it a quick flash of heat.

Now add the rice and, keeping the heat on, stir and fold it all around until all of the rice is coated in the sauce and has turned a pleasing red.

Serve immediately, topped with a fried egg if you like.

I like to make this with raw king prawns, which I put into the wok with the sauce, but before the vegetables go in. I give them a minute or two in the heat, until they just turn pink, then I take them out and set them aside while I complete the dish. The part-cooked prawns go back in with the rice, and they finish cooking while the rice takes in the heat.

To make it vegetarian or vegan, forgo the butter and use tofu (or just the veg!).